The Range Rover Evoque is Comfortable At the Country Club or On the Backroads

The Evoque for model-year 2014 is the best SUV for you if you like your style with substance.

Evoque looks like an auto-show concept car, but it’s most assuredly at home on real roads. And being a Range Rover, it’s in its element off-road, too. It’s as if Jimmy Choo designed a hiking boot.

This SUV belongs to the fast-growing crop of premium compact crossovers that includes
the BMW X1 and X3, Mercedes-Benz GLK and soon, the Porsche Macan. But nothing else quite combines this emphasis on style with, say, the ability to wade through 19.7 inches of water.

Evoque returns for model-year 2014 with two hatchback body styles: a four-door and a two-door that Range Rover calls the coupe. These are the smallest, least-expensive Range Rovers and both have a new transmission—a nine-speed automatic. It replaces a six-speed automatic and helps boost fuel economy from the lower rungs to at least midpack in the premium-compact-crossover segment.

This is a competitive class and it’s thriving, with the Audi Q3, Lexus NX, Lincoln MKC and Mercedes GLA joining the aforementioned rivals. The segment attracts the newly affluent, as well as owners of larger premium SUVs who’ve discovered they don’t need bulky dimensions to get luxury, performance and prestige. Transaction prices generally run from the high $30,000s to the low $60,000s. And you might be surprised that the volume leader is the Cadillac SRX.

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Range Rover can take some credit for igniting all this with its model-year 2012 introduction of the high-fashion Evoque, with help from fashionable Victoria Beckham. For model-year 2014, the coupe is again available in three levels of trim and the better-selling four-door in five levels. They’ll be joined for model-year 2015 by a pair of limited-edition four-doors: the super-luxury Autobiography and the performance-tuned Autobiography Dynamic.

Perhaps the best thing about the Evoque is the way it blends a sense of theater with everyday practicality. For example, this low roofline should theoretically chop headroom, but even the coupe provides surprising space inside for four adults. And both body styles have some 50 cubic feet of cargo volume with the rear seatbacks folded.

Pushing the start button triggers a nifty performance: a rising rotary shift knob that turns out to be a convenient way to select a gear. And the dramatically narrow headlamps? They actually illuminate the road brilliantly.

There’s more arresting design inside. The main gauges, for example, are marked by what looks like cut glass, although they are more legible at night than in the day. The dashboard is well laid-out and sumptuously padded with classy, stitched surfaces. Real wood and aluminum trim is available. Navigation is optional on the entry-level models and standard on all other versions. It responds well to spoken commands, but the touchscreen requires too many steps to key in an address or phone number.

All models have various grades of leather upholstery. And while the space in front is good, the buckets might be a little narrow for some bottoms. The rear bench doesn’t have an adjustable backrest but is otherwise supportive and unexpectedly roomy. With just two doors and a lower roofline, the coupe’s rear seat is less accessible.

An enormous panoramic glass roof is standard on all but the least-expensive models. Unfortunately, it isn’t really visible from the front seats. And it doesn’t open, so on hot, sunny days this can become the Range Rover Terrarium.

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Among new features for model-year 2014 is adaptive cruise control. Most rivals already had that, but the self-parking system can now also automatically pull this crossover out of a parallel space.

All model-year 2014 offerings continue with a two-liter four-cylinder engine turbocharged to 240 horsepower. Some competitors offer smoother, more powerful six-cylinder engines, but this is decent power for a four-cylinder in this class. The model-year 2015 Autobiography Dynamic model will get 285 horsepower from the two-liter, which should better position Evoque against some of the class hotrods, like the Macan, Audi SQ5 and GLA45 AMG, all of which exceed 300 horses.

Evoque’s four-cylinder has automatic stop-start, and EPA fuel-economy ratings are palatable…at 24 miles per gallon city/highway combined. That’s up from 22 mpg combined with the six-speed automatic.

Every Evoque has all-wheel-drive, and contributing to the improved mileage is new technology that decouples power to the rear wheels when it isn’t needed. Range Rover also adds torque vectoring to the rear axle; it distributes power side to side, for improved handling.

The navigation system has an off-road mode. And Terrain Response is standard to let you dial in suspension and drivetrain settings to suit conditions. Range Rover is a division of Land Rover and inherits an appetite for muddy ruts and rocky trails, though most Evoque owners limit their traction challenges to snowy streets.

Once it gets the vehicle moving, the turbo four-cylinder doesn’t lack for punch. But a V-6 would provide the more linear response appropriate to a Range Rover. And the 19- and 20-inch wheels and tires that add so much visually don’t do the ride quality any favors. They do contribute to handling that would do a sport sedan proud. Still, unless you’re in a sporting mood, the SUV can act a bit darty in routine changes of direction.

Around-town driving also exposes some powertrain deficiencies. The idle is rough, start-stop is ragged and the nine-speed transmission doesn’t feel much different from the six-speed, the result of abrupt shifts that are still too frequent at lower speeds. You can disable stop-start with the push of a button and gain more transmission control with the paddle shifters.

True to its premium positioning, base prices for the four-door model begin at just under $42,000 for the entry-level version, called the Pure. They stretch to $57,200 for the top-line Dynamic model. The Coupe is a boutique offering, and its base-price-range is $45,000 to $58,000, before options.

Ah, options. We tested a base Pure equipped with the Prestige Premium Package. That bundle of joy includes goodies such as the panoramic roof, heated seats, cooled front seats, navigation, xenon headlamps, a great Meridian audio system and beautiful wood trim. The package costs $14,3000. Finished off with the $1,300 adaptive cruise-control option, our base model stickered for $57,590.

Evoque has been a huge success around the world and has won numerous awards. It is more than a style statement. But is it a statement you feel comfortable making?

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About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]